11 December 2013


The Long Walk to Communication

On the night of 6th October our telephone cables were stolen.
There was a 700 metre length strung between the poles from the road, across the fields and down to our offices. Now the only purpose served by the poles seems to be as somewhere for our resident Crested Eagle to perch.
Two months later Telkom came, on a Sunday, with a big JCB and a load of men and dug a trench alongside the airstrip into which they threw a cable. Problem was that the cable wasn't quite long enough and stopped a good 100m short of where it was supposed to end up. How hard can it be to measure 700m accurately?
This is how short the first attempt was.
If we misjudged distance like that it would be called landing short of the runway and would cost us a few million dollars and possible a life or two.

So another week goes by before the missing metres are replaced. Then after another week we get a message that Telkom aren't going to sort the problem out cos they can't afford to replace cables that are stolen so often. 'But this is the first time our cables have been stolen and you've already dug a hole and laid a new cable anyway.' Oh, OK, err we'll be down to join it all together then - thanks!

And so it happened - after a few more days, and we now have land lines and internet access.
Notice the white cable in the picture above. That was the power to the electric gate at the entrance to the farm. It was cut seven times and is still not fixed. We now have to charge the gate motor battery up each day and install it each evening to provide access security for the farm.
The interim solution was a dodgy dongle, laptop and a cell phone.
Mercy Air team

22 November 2013

First Missions Trip in the Kodiak - Nacala

John and Paul flew the first mission flight in the Kodiak to Nacala in the north of Mozambique.

Perhaps two maps here might give a better idea of where it was.
After the 8-10 hr legs of the ferry flight, 6 hours to get to Nacala didn't seem too bad.
One of the real advantages of the Kodiak is how easy it is to operate in terms of ease of loading and load carrying capability. We took five people, 700 Kg of cargo and enough fuel to fly further than the length of the UK. Still took a while to cram it all in though.
Mozambique's opposition party has recently announced it was abandoning the 1992 peace accord with the ruling party that ended the country's 30 year civil war in which over a million people died. There had been a number of attacks of military and civilian targets and traffic on the main north-south road was having to travel in military guarded convoys. We had also heard that some charter flights had been prevented from continuing past the initial airport of entry and so we decided to fly in 'civies'.
Almost ready to go.
Crossing the Rio Save (pronounced Sarvey).
We landed at an old military airport in Nacala, a now booming coastal town, that was still home to a squadron of Mig 25's which you can just glimpse as you taxi in.
Unloading was somewhat easier with many hands on deck to help
To get from Nacala to the village of Memba where Martin and Simone Schumann live there was still a two hour drive on a dodgy dirt road that had even claimed a grader.
This was our fifth time we had flown in support of World Outreach International, the mission that Martin and Simone Schumann as well as Myriam Wahr work with. The bulk of the cargo we'd flown up consisted of 130Kg of anti-malarial medicine (enough to treat over 2300 people and well worth the effort of raising the money to cover the cost of flying it there) and 2400 audio Bibles - collectively worth over $80000.

Getting it from the donors near Durban wasn't too hard - it just arrived on a truck. Getting it to Nacala, on the other hand, was a different story - in the past. Nacala is half way back to the equator from where we are and 200 km further east than Moscow. However, with the load swallowing capabilities of the Kodiak, this years flight was much easier.

The next day Myriam came to collect the medicine. Martin and Simone along with Myriam Wahr, have set up many rural clinics and use natural medicines, many of which they grow themselves

On a previous visits we had helped build the Schumann's first house.
The first house and ample porch under which we slept.
On the last visit we installed the wiring for their new house which was now mostly complete, but with the rainy season just round the corner the bolts that held the roof on still needed some attention. Martin did count the bolts and came up with a figure of about 2500. So, Paul's job over the next three days was to seal the holes on their roof and the roof of another mission family that were also building a house.
Talk about a cat on a hot tin roof or should it be, 'mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun'.
It was silly hot and soon became apparent that to accomplish anything worthwhile they would have to get up at 04:30 before sunrise and work as long as they could and then return at about 15:00 and work until they couldn't see what they were doing. Turns out that just before dawn there was quite a bit of dew which made the roof something of an ice rink for the first hour.
But, with a little perseverance and many swigs of water we managed to get a shed load of these...
 ...to look more like this...
John was also kept busy with a number of mechanical tasks including fixing the generator for the new mission family who will use it to power their mobile dental unit.
 As well as maintaining the Schumann's vehicle which takes a pounding on the bad roads.
The other major occupier of weight allowance and cargo space on the flight up was 2400 audio Bibles donated by Mega Voice in Pretoria (http://megavoice.com/envoy.html).
As well as little heard Mozambican languages these little audio players contain the complete Bible in a number of languages including Mandarin and Gujarati to cater for Chinese and Indian immigrants and Martin uses them extensively in his work with the local communities.

Martin and Simone live 50 metres from the beach and we suppose it stands to reason that their eldest daughter is just going to have the best shell collection ever.
Martin had a fairly extensive list of jobs he wanted us to help him with and despite the humidity and temperatures that dipped to a night time low of only 27 deg, which basically meant we spent five days leaking perspiration, we actually managed to tick everything off.

The day before we left we met a guy on the beech who sold us a fish. Good job the Kodiak had a large external cargo compartment!
The Kodiak was impressive on the flight back too. The absence of cargo meant we could fill the fuel tanks to the brim and this allowed us to fly from Nampula to Nelspruit direct in 5 hours and still land with 2 hours fuel in the tanks.
The Zambezi River
And how it looks according to the Garmin 1000 avionics suite.
We were welcomed back by the Mercy Air staff who were eager to find out how our first trip in the Kodiak had gone.
Thank you.
Mercy Air team

24 October 2013

Raising the Roof

Dear Houston, we have a problem.

Our new plane is too big to fit in the hangar. It's getting close to the rainy season when we often get bad thunderstorms and hail which could damage our new baby.

What should we do?

Concerned aviation organisation.

White River

Of course we didn't really ask that and in reality we already knew the answer, but it was just a matter on logistics to join all the dots in order to make it happen.

There were actually two options, build a new hangar or make the existing one bigger and, as with a lot of things, money and time dictated which course we would choose.

The Kodiak had been with us for a week or two when it seems the summer rainfall pattern arrived a little too early and one day we got about 30 seconds of short, sharp hail. It did no damage but sent us into a frenzy of embalming every horizontal surface with a huge roll of bubble wrap.
Not many days after a big crane arrived and began to do what big cranes do best...
... lift things
We cut all the beams as well as pipes and wires etc and listened to the creaks and groans as strain was taken and the whole roof was raised a few metres.

 After the roof was lifted supporting beams were lifted into place...
 ...and men with beards rushed in and welded everything together.
Some of the bearded men looked a little worried for a while...

...but seemed a lot happier when it was all over.
Now our new aircraft can relax in its modified home safe from the worries of the environmental antics formulating outside.
Mercy Air Team

26 September 2013

The Eagle Has Landed

So, after a weeks worth of blog posts that basically gave a distance, a time and a handy map, we can finally include some pictures of the Kodiak on home soil.
At KMIA (Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport) to clear customs and immigration. This is only 8nm from Mercy Air and where we usually start our flights into Mozambique.
Quick photo before landing.

Final for 06 at the Mercy Air Farm.

On the apron outside the office.
Giving thanks for a safe journey.
From John:

No doubt, news of the Kodiak's arrival at Mercy Air is old news by now, but
perhaps some news on the last segments of the flight and some of the
highlights and events will be interesting for all those who have followed the
progress keenly. I last wrote while on the longest leg from Las Palmas to
Accra with a very fatigued mind and body. The lower part of the bulge of
Africa and down through Angola, depending on the season, is an area of very
large and dangerous thunderstorms every day, but we caught the day early
before any really serious weather had time to develop. The result of course
was an uneventful arrival in Accra, with a rather amusing but tedious journey
to the hotel where I slept like a baby for 9 hours.

An interesting note about the tedious, but amusing (at the expense of my
phone bill), journey to the hotel from the airport was the result of a serious bit
of haggling with a supposed 'handler' who said they would transport us to the
hotel where Paul had deployed himself the night before. The amusement
was the result of the locals, unable to find the hotel, and their method of
obtaining directions over the phone (mine) while driving, which resulted in a
bumper bashing with another vehicle. Neil and I were ready to abandon the
ride and find another taxi, when after what felt like 3 hours (1 hour actually)
we arrived and were able to shower.

Neil said farewell to me in Accra, and Paul Middleton joined me for the
remainder of the journet. Neil was looking rather jaded as we dropped him off for his flight back to
Johannesburg. The weather for the next 2 days was important and again we
had no diversions for weather enroute to Libreville which was a short hop of
about 4.5 hrs (sounds strange because a 4.5 hr flight prior to this would be
considered a long flight), and for those who are interested, included an IFR
arrival and ILS to about 1000'.

Andrew, my son, is regularly based in Libreville for his job and we used his
company contacts for accommodation and help with formalities at the airport.
This was refreshing change from the impersonal trips to and from hotels and
airports. I was beginning to think Libreville is a good stopover until I was
presented with the bill for navigation, landing and parking fees, a small
fortune (no bribes) for which I was presented with an official receipt. Despite
the fact that I knew it would not make the slightest bit of difference, I
expressed my displeasure in no uncertain terms, paid the cash and walked off a
very grumpy individual only to be told that they had no copy of my clearance,
the end result being that the official was simply too lazy to look through her
file properly. This, and an unfriendly discussion with the 'handler' in Accra
were the only sour notes for the entire trip.

The journey south through Angola was good except for minor diversions due
to some thunderstorm activity, made a little more interesting with the weather
radar suffering from vertigo. Some minor diversions and we ended up in
friendly Namibia and virtually on home ground again. Paul and I enjoyed a
comfortable night and good weather all the way home the next day.

The welcome at Mercy Air in White River was a little overwhelming as there
was a small crowd to welcome us. We did a small air to air photo sortie in the
area before landing. We taxied the aircraft up the ramp between the hangars
and as we came to a stop I suddenly had to choke back some emotion, as
the realisation hit me that not only was the journey over, but that I had, with
God's and other's help, prepared for, managed and executed the exercise
successfully and on schedule.

My reflection now after the attempt earlier this year is that God is sovereign,
as we submit to His plan, He works things out the best way. The attempt in February
to bring the Kodiak to South Africa, was not failure, but
simply another step in preparing us and our hearts for
His service. The aircraft, as a tool, has taken centre stage for
a few weeks now, but we wish to consecrate the aircraft to His
service and ourselves to serve Him with it.

Just when you thought you'd seen the last map - here's one of the total route as recorded by Spidertracks. 7800 miles, 7 days and almost 50 hours of flying.

Thank you

Mercy Air team.

Kodiak Ferry Flight - Day 7

Ondangwa, Namibia to Mercy Air, South Africa.

900 miles (1450 km). 6h48.

How the same route looked on the display inside the cockpit.
One of the more exciting moments of the flight was taking a whiff of oxygen. 7 hrs at 13000 ft can make you pretty tired.
Mercy Air team

Kodiak Ferry Flight - Day 6

Libreville, Gabon to Ondangwa, Namibia.

1260 miles (2320 km). 7h50.

Visibility was pretty poor for a lot of the flight. We were either above the cloud or in thick haze. One of the highlights was flying over Luanda airport.
Sunset on the ground at Ondangwa, Namibia. Fueld and ready for the next day.
Mercy Air team